It’s nearly that time of year when the other nurses and I dig out the Christmas tinsel and baubles and start to decorate the In-patient Unit here at St Richard’s. Each year, we do our best to make the hospice as homely and inviting as we can. Because we know that for many of our patients and their families, this will be the last Christmas they’ll get to spend together.
I’ve been at St Richard’s for the past seven years; last year, it was my turn to work Christmas Day. It’s probably hard to imagine – getting up early on a day you’re meant to be having a big roast, opening presents and wearing silly paper hats. Instead, you’re kissing your two-year old daughter and your husband goodbye as you get into your car and drive to work. I must admit, I remember feeling a bit sorry for myself – leaving all that I love behind that morning.
But from the moment I arrived at St Richard’s, the whole hospice was bustling with noise and excitement. One of our Healthcare Assistants put on the Father Christmas costume (and beard!) and gathered up a bag of presents. As we went from room to room, it was amazing to see our patients’ faces light up as they were handed their gifts – their first from Father Christmas in a long time! I’ll never forget the woman who burst into tears while she was opening hers; she couldn’t believe how Christmassy everything was.
Then, we helped everyone get bathed and spruced up, picking out their best outfits, ready for their loved ones to arrive. So many people come through the doors of the hospice on Christmas Day – and dogs and cats (and once, a reindeer!). Everyone is always welcome to stay as long as they want.
The highlight of the day, though, was our Christmas meal. Our catering team cooked for everyone – patients, families, nurses and our Chief Executive, Mark, joined in to carve up the turkey. Most of us sat down together, but we also give patients and their loved ones the chance to have a meal alone if that’s what they want.
I guess the best way to describe what we do at Christmas is to give people the gift of time – time to open presents, time for a meal together, time for sharing stories and laughter. There is nothing more important than time for those who are spending their last days with us.
Many of our nurses and staff have families of their own at home, just like me. We know that at the end of the holiday, we’ll be able to go back to them and celebrate a little tomorrow, or the next day. But for those who are with us on Christmas Day, there simply may not be another day where they’ll be all together.
Sometimes, we have to make the decision to bring Christmas forward, if a patient is really poorly. And in some cases, like for Penny Goddard and her daughter Abi, we do everything we can to help a patient and their family share one of the happiest days of their lives.
I remember Penny well; she came into St Richard’s in 2014, just before Christmas. Abi and her fiancée Kev were due to get married in Spain the following year but, as time passed, the family realised that Penny simply wouldn’t be well enough to make it to the wedding. So Abi, her loved ones, and the team at St Richard’s set to work creating a blessing service that her Mum could attend – right here at the Hospice. Abi’s words are incredibly moving. Please take a few minutes to read about their very special day, with her Mum by her side.
All of the care, the hope and the time that my team and I can give to local families like the Goddards during the holiday is because fantastic people like you continue to support us. I also want you to know how much all of us here appreciate your gift towards our recent Lights of Love appeal; there is simply no way we could do what we do without you. If you felt able to help us again, I can promise you that every donation will go towards the vital care we’ll deliver to people like Penny this Christmas.
For example, a gift of £18.29 is enough to care for one patient for an hour – enough time to get them dressed and ready for a wonderful day. £45.73 could pay for two and a half hours, enough time to help a family enjoy a last Christmas meal together. For £146.32, our team can be there throughout the day, making sure our patients get the chance to enjoy all of their favourite Christmas moments one last time.
If I could think of one word to illustrate how it feels to work over Christmas at St Richard’s it would be ‘fulfilling’. It’s my job to care for patients at the end of their lives, but also to ensure they have the chance to experience everything they can, with the time they have left. In a way, we’re a bit like Father Christmas’s elves – working behind the scenes to make sure our patients and their families are able to make happy memories to look back on in the years to come.
You may remember that a few years ago, we asked everyone to write a little message of support for everyone in the hospice on a paperchain. Everyone loved seeing these draped through the hallways, growing bigger each day. So, next to Abi’s story, you’ll find another little paperchain, just waiting for your message. We’d love to see your words of hope – and I know the patients will love it too; please, if you can, take a moment to fill it in and send it back to us along with your gift. It’s often the little extras that bring the biggest smiles around Christmas time and we want to create as many of those as we can this year.
With every wish of happiness and joy from the St Richard’s Hospice family to yours.
Hannah Cunliffe, IPU Staff Nurse
I want to tell you about my Mum, Penny, and how St Richard’s helped to make her last dreams come true. When I was growing up, my parents often mentioned St Richard’s – my Dad actually helped set up the clergy team there. But I’d never been to a Hospice before. To be honest, I thought they were a bit sad and scary.
When Mum got cancer, she spent some time at the hospital. But she was always thinking ahead – as she became more poorly, her hope was to go to St Richard’s. I remember so clearly the relief and excitement in her voice when she found out she had been given a bed at St Richard’s.
My fiancée, Kev, and I were planning to get married in Spain in 2015. Sadly at the end of 2014 Mum’s health started to deteriorate quickly and we knew that she wasn’t going to make the wedding. Everyone wants their parents there when they say ‘I do’ so we started exploring other options.
Once Mum had been admitted to St Richard’s, and with their help, we were able to plan a wedding blessing in two days which took place in the ‘Sacred Space’. It was a bit of a whirlwind but I quickly bought a dress, my brother Pete arranged some catering and a photographer, and my Dad, who’s a vicar, was on hand to lead the service. We joked that we were having a ‘shotgun wedding’.
I remember looking over at Mum during the service. She was so tired, but she’d put on a beautiful headscarf and had a huge smile on her face. Everyone was so happy in that moment, even though we knew that one of the saddest days was yet to come.
A few days later, in the early hours of Christmas morning, my brother called to say that Mum had died. I went straight into St Richard’s to say my final goodbye to Mum and to thank the staff – the fact they were not spending Christmas Day with their families was not lost on me despite our own awful circumstances. I was back home by 7am to be greeted by our excited toddler who was keen to open her stocking. We spent Christmas Day together with all the family and had a relatively ‘normal’ Christmas – eating, drinking and playing with toys. That’s what Mum would have wanted.
We’re all lifelong supporters of St Richard’s now; instead of wedding presents, we asked everyone to donate to the Hospice. Naomi, my cousin Jen and I have done lots of running events and we just did a sky dive. I know now that hospices aren’t scary places – they are respectful and caring places that will go the extra mile to accommodate the final wishes of their patients.
It’s only a little while till Christmas now and nearly a year since we shared that unique and special wedding blessing together. We will remember how happy it made Mum and I am so grateful to St Richard’s for making it happen. I hope, if you can, you’ll help St Richard’s to make wishes come true for other families, just like ours.
You can download and print your message paperchain15
You can donate here,